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Saturday 20th December

I’m being selfish again but I want Amy to quit. I don’t know if she’s attracted to me or not. The things she said when I trained her on the Longton round that I could have mistook for flirting haven’t really left my mind. I bet she works out a lot. Or has a lot of...

Stop it, you idiot. You’re becoming fixated on her. Just like Mrs Mellor, but in a different way. Look at your life. You have a beautiful wife, a shitty job, and live in a partly shitty area. The only things going for it are the neighbours. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t need another woman. Especially someone years older who seems to want to put it about and have a good time.

As I pull into the depot carpark I hope I don’t see her. Enough is enough. I’ve only seen her on three separate occasions, all at work, and all three left an imprint in my brain.

And she’s right there standing outside the driver’s side of her white Ford Fiesta with her arms folded looking like a lost sheep. Seems like nobody wants to talk to the new girl. I feel sorry for her in that respect.

I pull up beside her and get out. This is the first time I’ve seen her since she was in the other day training with Naz. On Leyland. I could ask her about Mrs Mellor.

I nod to her as I approach. She’s not wearing tight jeans today; she’s wearing leggings and boots that drop down from an above knee length skirt. She looks like she could be cold but the hotness under those clothes could melt ice I bet.

She nods back and smiles. ‘Hey, Lee.’

‘Training again?’ I ask.

She shakes her head. ‘Naz isn’t here today. They gave me his round. I’m going out almost blind.’

I could have done Leyland. Shit.

‘Say hi to Mrs Mellor for me,’ I say as a joke.

‘Wouldn’t say that too loud,’ she says and motion to the office window. The blinds are closed but you can bet that Agatha is there listening.

Amy leans in. ‘Mrs Mellor looks really rundown, you know?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’ve only met her once but she doesn’t look healthy. She looks like she has the world on her shoulders. I used to be a carer and have never seen anyone so frail.’

That’s not the Mrs Mellor I remember.

She continues: ‘I saw her wig on a chair. She hadn’t bothered to wear it. Her hair was just wispy and almost non-existent.’

I wonder what the hell is wrong with her.

‘Can I have your mobile number?’ Amy asks.

I don’t quite know what to say. I really don’t feel right giving it to her.

‘It’s in case I struggle on the round. I can call you.’

I can’t say no. I find myself uncontrollably saying my number to her.

Amy nods and whispers with wink, ‘I’ll keep you posted.’

Mei and I agreed to go to the party tonight. It’ll give us a chance to get to know the people in the area. That’s the part I’m dreading the most. Harold isn’t going, which I’m disappointed about. It would be nice to have someone there who I have something in common with who isn’t Mei.

Mei has offered to work tomorrow, something she’d done before knowing about the party. Yet she wants to go anyway.

We decide to go to the party at around six and leave an hour later, just long enough to say we were there and get to know certain people a little, not that I particularly want to as I said, but there might be someone there who has some juicy gossip that can take people’s minds off of the Jason situation. I know leaving a party so early is unfashionable; I just don’t care. I especially don’t care about fashion. Mei always says ‘You don’t know fashion’, and my reply is: I have an opinion, unlike those sheep that buy the latest tech even though it’s not as good as everyone makes out.

As expected, her mum doesn’t want to go. What would be the point anyway? Nobody can understand her and she can’t understand anybody. I saw the Starkies this morning and they say they aren’t going. They’re not looking forward to the noise. I kind of see their point. I’ll probably be able to hear it from my house as well. As will Harold. I tried to convince them to go as they’ll hear it anyway but it didn’t make a difference.

We eat before going to the party. I know I’ll eat my fair share of nibbles when we’re there, if they’re serving them, which I hope they are. Free food is the best food.

The beer from Bargain Booze is a special they had on from Germany. I can’t even pronounce the name, but it was on offer and beer is beer, right? Not like anyone will notice we brought it when it’s piled up with the rest of them anyway. Who can argue with eight cans for five quid?

Mei dresses in a, well, a dress. It’s black and short and she wears black tights with it. I wear a blue and white chequered shirt with a white t shirt underneath. Mei picked it out for me in the shop so I had to buy it. I’m also wearing black jeans.

The street lights illuminate what little rain is spiralling down, like dead midges that couldn’t handle the cold.

The party sounds like it’s in full swing as we head past the Starkies’ home. I dread to think what their house is like with the music blaring out against the adjoining wall. I can imagine them with a cup of tea and a biscuit watching TV in their wingback chairs, swilling the tea around the cup while looking at each other with an unpleasant and distasteful expression.

At the door, the shadow of people standing around hits the blinds like that scene from Home Alone, except these are people. I hope. I don’t want to get in there and find that there are mannequins moving around on a toy train running along the floor. Sounds like something from a horror movie. Am I going to die?

There’s a silver coloured knocker on the door. Do I use it, or do I knock? Those knockers can be awfully loud at times.

I see the blinds flutter and the fat one waves.

A few seconds later Buff answers the door.

‘Welcome,’ he says with a massive grin across his face. He takes the drinks from me. ‘Ooo, German. Thanks.’

Now everyone will know cheapskate me bought it.

‘Come on in.’ He moves aside and we enter.

It looks like the house is more or less the same layout as mine and Harold’s. Not that I expected any different. The main difference is the lack of a downstairs toilet to the left of the front door. Theirs is missing. Gone completely. It really opens up the entrance hall.

There are people walking from between the kitchen and the living room, some of whom I’ve never seen before. Some I have seen and I don’t really want to see again.

We enter the living room. They made good use of the space, moving their furniture to the edges of the room and moving the dining table to the back which is home to food and beer. The food is what I want. With food in my mouth I can’t talk to anybody.

Mei squeezes my hand. ‘Don’t fill your face with food. You’re not leaving me alone tonight with these people.’

’What do you mean ‘These people’?’ I ask.

She glares at me. ‘You know what I mean. Strangers.’

I head for the food anyway. Mei comes with me.

There are the usual snack size sausage rolls and chicken nuggets. There’s a communal bowl of crisps that I imagine to house a colony of bacteria, and there’s the obligatory mini snack sausages on sticks. The kind of food I like at these places. Apart from the crisps of course.

Mei stands behind me like a lost sheep in a field of wolves. I stuff my mouth with sausages when someone comes up to me for a chat. I don’t see her, what with my back to her. She pokes me gently on the shoulder and I turn around. Her face looks familiar.

She can see I’m searching for a memory of her.

She puts my mind at ease: ‘I live in the flats opposite. The name’s Emma.’ She holds out her hand.

I shake it and say with a mouthful of sausage, ‘Lee. And this is Mei.’

They shake hands.

I swallow. I’m embarrassed. ‘Sorry,’ I say.

She smiles. As it turns out, Emma sees us every day but we rarely see her. I find that a little creepy. And it proves that the feeling of eyes on me when I leave my house isn’t without merit. It’s not just paranoia, which makes me feel a bit better. I know it was just my mind running wild but to have some proof eases me a little. Problem is it also enforces the feeling even more.

Emma is single and works at the local Spar. She’s a little on the heavy side and her hair is a shoulder length wavy mess. I call it a mess but I’m sure she made it looks like that on purpose. She’s quite polite but I do question why she’s knows so much about us. Doesn’t she have anything better to do than watch us? She knows that I drive for Meals to your Door and that I take and pick up Mei from work every day. She even knows I hate the window card in the car.

I ask her as a joke, ‘You get much on tape?’

Mei nudges me.

But Emma nods. She says, ‘I’ve got a recording of Harold finding his dog’s body at the gate. I’ve also got Jason’s mum being arrested the other day.’

I was only joking but it looks like we’ve got a nutter in the area.

I don’t really know what to say to her now. I feel a bit on edge and I’ve lost my appetite somewhat. I want to get out of here. ‘Well it was nice talking to you, Emma. I’ll catch up with you later.’

She smiles and nods and I leave her to tuck into the grub.

I take a bottle of beer for Mei and I and we head over to sit down.

Mei says, ‘That was a bit weird.’

‘Yeah. Are we sure we close the curtains when we, you know?’

I see her shiver. ‘Shit. I hope so.’

I look back and see Emma still has her back to us.

For the next hour (no I couldn’t get away), all I can hear is talk about Jason going missing and who might have done it and if that person was here in the room with us all. I glance at Emma, who is standing against the wall listening to a conversation. She knows I’m looking at her, I’m sure of it. But she doesn’t acknowledge it.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on her. She might just be lonely.

I hear the nattering, or gossip, of a community hell bent on bitching about Jason’s mum and her drinking habits. Just leave her alone. She lost a child.

At nine o’clock, we finally find a reason to leave: Mei’s mum calls. I’ve never been so happy to have her here. She doesn’t call for much, but it’s our cue to make up a reason a leave. We say our goodbyes and the fat one shows us to the door. ‘Don’t be a stranger,’ he says.

As Mei and I head home, we can still hear the music. The Starkies must be hating this.

When we get home her mum is in the kitchen. I walk over to her and fling my arms around her to give her the biggest hug I’ve ever given her. ‘Thank you!’

I let go of her and she has a beaming smile across her face. Mei explains to her what that was about and her mum laughs her head off.

It wasn’t that funny.

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